Sunny Afternoon

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green reviews Edward Hall's Sunny Afternoon and finds enough quality to brighten up the gloom of advancing winter!

John Dagleish and Ben Caplan in Sunny Afternoon. Photograph by Kevin Cummins.A joyous tribute to one of Britain’s most iconic bands is provided by Edward Hall’s production of Sunny afternoon, which is transferred from the Hampstead Theatre to the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End.

The band in question is The Kinks and this juke box musical depicts their rise to stardom, set against the backdrop of a Britain caught mid-swing between the conservative 1950s and the riotous 60s.

Joe Penhall’s impressionistic scripts steers us through the group falling foul of the musicians federation, the endless contractual wrangling with their management and the banning of the band in the US, while the main core of the musical centres on the particularly volatile and often downright rancorous relationship between frontman Ray Davies and his younger brother, Dave, the lead guitarist.

At just under three hours, the show is certainly over long and could do with some judicious pruning but director Edward Hall marvellously nails the humour and pathos of the piece. I will long remember the very funny scene in which Dave swings from a chandelier in a women’s clothing store before attacking a hotel receptionist with an axe – no harm done, I should add. Miriam Buether’s imaginative set design features scores of speaking cabinets.

But it is the irresistible music itself which really makes the show stand out and Ray Davies’s lyrics are imbued with a mixture of melancholy and wit as exemplified by their breakthrough hit You Really Got Me. Dedicated Follower of Fashion on the other hand, gently satirises young British males who for the first time in 200 years, dress more colourfully and fancifully than females. Lola is a hilarious and touching song about an innocent abroad who falls for the charms of a transvestite in a Soho club. Autumn Almanac conjures up a vista of leaf shuffling pavements, seaside holidays and Sunday high teas that could that could have been written by John Betjemen, while the elegiac Waterloo Sunset is suffuse with the roseate glow of a summer dusk – the yellow taxi lights, usually so much friendlier than their drivers, and the bustling underground station, still uninitiated into security alerts. The title song Sunny Afternoon perfectly conveys the prevailing mood of optimism and World Cup-winning euphoria of the Sixties. Furthermore the songs, which are immaculately played and sung by the cast, help push the plot along, rather than detract from it.  

John Dalgleish manages to capture the wry, witty grin and underlying sadness of Ray Davies, a young man confused and underwhelmed by the arrival of fame. George Maguire is excellent as his wild card, live wire, trouble making younger sibling Dave, while Lillie Flynn is genuinely poignant as Ray’s first wife Rasa and there are fine comic performances from Dominic Tighe and Tam Williams as The Kinks’ first managers- two Tory toffs having the time of their lives with this working class band.

A show then which truly brings a welcome ray of sunshine to brighten up the gloom of advancing winter!

Sunny Afternoon

Plays at Harold Pinter Theatre until Saturday 23 May 2015

Box Office 0844 871 7622

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